French Passport for Immigrating Africans – How to ‘get around’ Slavery Laws – 1860s

Slavery was outlawed by England in 1834, and France in 1848.  The Emancipation proclamation in the U.S. was signed into law in 1865. However, in order to procure raw manpower needed by plantations in the West Indies , French interest groups attempted to get around the law by developing French Passports for ‘Immigrating Africans’.

Sugar cane is a very labor intensive crop and slaves provided the manpower for large plantations in the West Indies. Source: Br. Library

Richard Burton, travelling in  Africa in the 1860s, learned of the use of the French ‘passports’  – both in East and West Africa and had this to say about them:

…To complete the confusion [about the status of Africans going to the Americas], several ships collecting negro “emigrants” and “free labourers,*”…

* No further allusion will be made in these pages to the system lately introduced by the slavers of civilized Europe [i.e., the use of passports]; the question is somewhat of too political a nature to be discussed in a work devoted to geography. Yet, it is hoped, no honest man’s mental vision can be so obfuscated as to be incapable of discerning the old evil, through its disguise of a new name…

The triangle of trade items in the Atlantic relied on slave trade as a key component in commercial transactions. Source: unknown

In one of his books, Burton includes a copy of the French Passport, given below.  Comments in square brackets are by Burton:

French Passport Form

Immigration African.

This _______________ day, one thousand eight hundred sixty _______________, before  _______________,  Expert in administrative French law and Agent of emigration, in accordance with article 8 of the decree of March 27, 1852, attended by _______________ required witnesses, appeared the named free black _______________,born to the village of ______________, coast of _______________, aged of_______________ , who declared to agree freely and of his/her free will to leave for one of the French Colonies in America,  to contract there in the engagement of work that is  below detailed.
The conditions of work engagement are the following:
ART. 1.
The named ______________________________ undertakes  agricultural work and manufacturing of sugar, as well as all other  agricultural and industrial work which the employer will judge appropriate, and generally all or any domestic work. 
ART. 2.
The present engagement of work is for ten years from the day of  entry into the service of the employer. The employee owes 26 days of work efficient and complete per month; the earnings will only be had to after 26 days of work. The plain work day will be  established by the regulations existing in the Colony.  The employee will be held  to work without increase of wages according to the needs of the establishment where he will be used. [The employer can thus overwork his slaves as much he pleases.]
ART. 3.
The employer will have the right to assign and to transfer, as he sees fit, the contracted workers for his own profit. [NB–the owner can thus separate families.]
ART. 4.
The committed will be lodged on the establishment where he/she will be used; he/she will have the right, on the part of the employer, to medical care, to his/her food, which will be, in conformity with the regulations and the use adopted in the Colony for people working in the country.  Of course all illness contracted by the employee will at his/her expenses.
ART. 5.
The salary of the committed is of: 12 francs for men, 10 francs for the women, 8 francs for the children of 10 to 14 years  per month of 26 days of work,  as is mentioned in article 2, from 8,days after his/her  landing in the colony. Half of this sum will be paid to him at the end every month, the other half he/she will receive at the end of every year. [Not even festivals allowed as holidays.]
ART. 6.
The employee recognizes to have received, in advance,  from the representative of M. Régis, the sum of TWO HUNDRED FRANCS  which he/she can use for various expenses. These advances will be deducted from his/her wages at the rate of ____________per month.
ART. 7.
The employee declares in advance to comply with the regulations in the Colony for police work and immigration.
ART. 8.
AT the expiration of his/her engagement time, repatriation will be granted to  him, his wife, and his children not yet adults, provided that the employee has committed a tenth of his salary monthly for this immigration.
If the employee gives up his repatriation, all committed sums will be repaid .
In case of reengagement the conditions will be negotiated between the employee and the employer.
Make and signed of good faith, ______________________
Certified by the Chief Admnistrative Officer performing the duties of emigration, __________________

Source: Burton-Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo,  Vol. II, 1876.  Annex I,

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-General, Colonialism, Dark Continent, European colonizers, Explorers & exploration, History-Recent, Richard Burton, Slavery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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